I forgot Agatha Raisin.
An online comment from a reader about last month’s column on cozy mysteries asked, “What about M.C. Beaton?” Beaton, also known as Marion Chesney, created two quintessential British sleuths in Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth. I forgot them. I feel as if I should be offering them both personal apologies – they really have become great friends of mine over the years. Yes, even Aggie! (Brash, rude, insecure woman that she is. Readers either love her or hate her.)
Truly though, I could have created a never-ending list of enjoyable cozy authors. When I think of the whole genre of mysteries and thrillers, the mind boggles when it comes to the choices that authors have afforded us.
My first foray into that world came in the form of a late ’70s spy thriller by Ken Follett, “Eye of the Needle.” Growing up in the Cold War era, I was fascinated and fearful of anything “behind the iron curtain,” especially the USSR. I read all of Follett’s books as they came out and quickly attached myself to Martin Cruz Smith, when he released “Gorky Park” in the early ’80’s. Awesome books.
About that time, as well, I discovered British mystery writer Patricia Moyes with her Inspector Henry Tibbett character. I read her voraciously right up until her last book in the late ’90s. She’s worth the jump back in time, if anyone is interested in picking up a new-to-them author.
I have to admit here that I’m a James Patterson devotee. I hope that doesn’t lessen my book creds, as I know many voracious readers consider him the Danielle Steele of the mystery world, popping those books out like bunny rabbits. But you have to admit (don’t you?) that his business concept of using a “co-writer” is sheer genius when it comes to proliferating the market with books and making a load of money.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Gross about the time of the release of his second solo mystery novel, “Don’t Look Twice.” He co-wrote with Patterson for several books and was instrumental in popularizing the “Women’s Murder Club” series that is now up to “11th Hour.” “12th of Never” is due out at the end of the year, and it’s set in San Francisco, for those of you who like to read novels set locally.
Anyhow, Patterson came up with the premise and a vague outline, from there a more concrete outline, then an ultimate path was forged until completion. Gross was nothing but complimentary about Patterson and the leg up he gave Gross in the writing world. It seems like it could be a win-win proposition. So who am I to have a beef with the Patterson flood of reading material? I do notice he has kept his Alex Cross series to himself, however. I can’t help but think his best writing occurs in those Cross novels.
Back to the topic of spies.
I was reminded again of Ken Follett when I picked up “The Expats” by new author Chris Pavone. The novel moves from Washington, D.C., to Luxembourg and on to Paris. It’s filled with intrigue, spies and the ultimate of “everything is not as it seems.” Kate Moore has a huge secret – a secret life, really. She seems like a soccer mom but, nope, she’s not. Her husband has a huge secret, too. When they’re given the opportunity to move to Luxembourg, Kate reinvents herself as an American expat and plans to forget her past life. That idea begins to crumble when she becomes suspicious of her husband’s work and they meet another American expat couple who just don’t seem to be who they portray.
The chapters are crafted in a past-and-present format that comes together beautifully as the climatic ending nears. It’s a format that, if not done correctly, could be confusing. Pavone manages to keep it clear and concise while giving his characters a real and sophisticated edge.
I don’t usually read first-time authors because their writing is not usually as evolved as I like. Pavone changed my mind on that score.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.